The struggle from Bahrain

Friday, March 11

Thousands of protesters march towards the King’s Court in Riffa, and area where much of the royal family live. The march is stopped at a barricade constructed by police, backed up by a small BDF (Bahrain Defence Force) presence at a clock tower on the road leading to the royal court.

Pro-government individuals, including members of Parliament, and what appear to be balatajiya were also stationed behind the barricade, many carrying makeshift weapons including sticks and swords. Much consternation has been expressed about the fact that the on February 17 the Pearl roundabout was raided by police, who killed 4 demonstrators, allegedly because protesters had weapons – while on Friday government loyalists carried weapons in broad daylight with the silent complicity of security personnel.

Feb14 youth group states (@twitter.com/onlinebahrain) that they will begin a campaign of civil disobedience on Sunday if the Royal Court march is attacked.

According to the Financial Times, clashes erupt when government loyalists begin throwing rocks at protesters, leading to retaliatory rock throwing, and a small group of demonstrators attempting to breach the barricade (according to the Ministry of Interior).

Protesters are then dispersed with tear gas, and reports which follow claim that pro-government personnel follow demonstrators into the nearby village of Aali smashing cars and attacking protesters; the reports of cars being smashed are independently verified and reported in the WSJ. A British journalist is attacked, his camera stolen and car windows smashed. The Ministry of Health issues a statement declaring that 17 patients are admitted to the Salmaniya Medical Complex for treatment, 6 with minor injuries and 11 under observation.

Saturday, March 12

Thousands of protesters, including a large presence of women, march from village of Malkiya to the Safriya palace, where they are given dates and water by palace staff – in a move reminiscent of the US embassy’s handing out of donuts and juice to demonstrators.

Appropriate, then, US Defense secretary Robert Gates visits Bahrain, is met at the airport by Cabinet Minister for Foreign Affairs, Shaikh Khalid bin Abdulla Al Khalifa, and meets with the King and Crown Prince. In a statement to the press, Gates says,”baby steps [are] not sufficient,” he said. “Real reform [is] necessary.”
Bahrain’s Crown Prince is also quoted as saying, “a significant portion of the electoral base feels that their voice is unheard, and they want the respect due to them,” referring to the pro-government crowds. The repercussions of these talks are as yet unclear.

Sunday, March 13

As per Friday’s statement, a campaign of civil disobedience begins with the setting up of roadblocks across the highway in front of the Bahrain Financial Harbour. After some tussles with police, tear gas is fired, crowds dispersed, and tents outside BFH dismantled police, who reportedly then follow protesters to Pearl roundabout and launch stun grenades and more tear gas, and possibly use live ammunition, from the flyover.

Street battles between riot police and protesters ensue, with clear evidence of excessive force used by police, including point blank range shooting of tear gas at an unarmed protester. Crowds surge to the Pearl roundabout, outnumbering police, who are forced to withdraw. Injuries are sustained by pellet shots, and shots to head and eye area, and injured are taken to Salmaniya Medical Complex, and some on the scene report the use of CS gas not used previously.

Meanwhile, news from the University of Bahrain – Bahrain’s public university, the largest in the country, emerges; students staging pro government and anti-government rallies are reported to have become involved in a confrontation. Videos then emerge showing anti government demonstrators being attacked by government loyalists. Eyewitnesses report that a number of vehicles carrying ‘baltajiyya’, many wearing balaclavas enter campus, again with sticks and swords, and attack protesters, many of whom lock themselves in the university mosque and classrooms for protection, with others forming a human chain around female students.

Buses of demonstrators from the Pearl roundabout then arrive on campus, and clashes ensue, followed shortly by a deployment of riot police who eventually carry out a raid to evacuate the campus. Many students are injured in the clashes, which according to all accounts except for those on Bahrain TV, are instigated by government loyalists. Again, the police take no visible action to disarm to control government loyalists marching through campus with sticks and swords.For an detailed account given by an eye witness later in the day at the Pearl roundabout, see here. In an official statement, university head Ibrahim Janahi suspended classes until further notice, citing ‘disruptive protests’ and damage to property as the reasons.

The day continued with sporadic street battles, armed mobs and acts of vandalism (by government loyalists according to most reports) all over the country including Hamad Town, Bin Saloom matam in Manama, the headquarters of Wa’ad political society in Muharraq, and Al Wasat (opposition) newspaper. Reports of civilians armed with guns and sticks in Riffa and the establishment of an army checkpoint between Aali and Riffa also surface.

The evening ends with massive crowds at Lulu, and it is announced that a number of ‘baltajiyyah’ have been caught and will be questioned. The road leading from the roundabout to the financial harbour is said to be blocked, and under the control of demonstrators. An image is posted on the web, purporting to show an official document listing names of security personnel required to wear civilian clothing: cue the emergence of baltajiyyah.

Hundreds of casualties are counted. One protester, 17-year-old Ali Demistani, has reportedly died – apparently after being hit by a police jeep, although full details are yet to emerge. Throughout the day, Bahrain TV has run obnoxious, incendiary, factually lacking, very selective and biased (against protesters) coverage including an emotionally charged talk show featuring call-ins from the public and officials. One of the hosts purportedly calls for GCC intervention in Bahrain on behalf of the state.

Amid rising fears about the deployment of Saudi troops in Bahrain, reporters are allegedly being asked to leave tomorrow, and the economist writer Jane Kinninmont is denied an entry into Bahrain.

The day ends with a statement by Crown Prince Shaikh Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, who repeats the same old statement that he is ready for ‘dialogue’ on:
“1) an elected parliament with full vested powers and prerogatives
2) A government reflecting the will of people
3) fairly-demarcated electoral constituencies
4)Naturalization
5)Combating financial and administrative corruption
6) State properties
7) Addressing sectarian polarization and animosities, in addition to other principles and topics”,

but adds that “the right of security and safety is above all considerations”.

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